Some Maryland renters are collectively due $500,000 in refunds thanks to a settlement with the attorney general's office over "fabricated damage claims" and other allegations.
The owner of the Ager Road Station Apartments in Hyattsville and its property manager agreed to the settlement after complaints that they kept security deposits without cause and sued for payments the tenants didn't actually owe, such as false lost rent and demage claims, according to the Maryland attorney general.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said in a statement that "landlords and property managers cannot take advantage of their tenants without facing consequences."
"Tenants should always demand receipts when paying rent and other charges, and document the condition of their apartments when they move out," he added.
Owner Ager Road Station LLP "also allegedly charged application fees as high as $1,000, which Ager Road refused to refund if the tenant declined to rent an offered apartment," the attorney general's office said. (Landlords generally can't charge more than $25 for an application fee.)
Both Ager Road and property manager Robert Thacker denied violating laws, the attorney general's office said. Telephone and email messages to the apartment complex seeking comment were not returned.
If you think you qualify for some of the settlement money, call the attorney general's consumer protection hotline at 410-528-8662. That's also the number to call with complaints.
Besides the $500,000 in promised restitution to former tenants and those who had applied to rent there, the settlement includes an agreement by the landlord to forgive all judgments it hasn't yet collected on, estimated at more than $300,000. Ager Road additionally agreed to pay $25,000 to the attorney general's office, while Thacker agreed to pay a $100,000 civil penalty, the office said.
The attorney general's office had alleged that the landlord and property manager "filed hundreds of lawsuits claiming lost rent and other damages that were supported by false evidence, including fabricated invoices." The office also accused them of deducting from security deposits "for damages to apartments that either did not exist or constituted ordinary wear and tear" that they rather than the tenants were financially responsible for.
What happens to security deposits is a common source of landlord-renter tension and sometimes boils over beyond private griping. The attorney general's office closed 641 such complaints in the last three years, many of which were mediated.
Personal finance columnist Eileen Ambrose wrote last year about the issue, telling the story of a renter who couldn't get his security deposit returned and won three times the amount by taking his complaint to court.
Interested in the difference between normal wear and tear and honest-to-goodness damage? Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., which runs a hotline for both renters and landlords, answered that in a Q&A on the blog last year.